Friday, August 24, 2012

Stone Upon Stone

                                         Stephen, Rev. Cole, Linda and your gift of vitamins

I have just returned from a four-day trip to Haiti. I travelled with two people from St. George's Episcopal Church, Fredericksburg. Their names are Carey and Linda. Carey has been to Haiti several times and Linda was making her second trip. As we flew into the airport I was struck by the city of Port au Prince. I had not realized it is built into a side of a mountain. With many of the structures built of stone and cement it is no wonder so many buildings collapsed in the earthquake. The city was built to accommodate about 500,000. At the time of the earthquake, there were 5,000,000 living in the city. I was surprised to see many of the tent cities in the open spaces surrounding the presidential palace were gone. The government paid the "residents" to move back to their home villages. There is still a very large refugee tent city that house close to 400,000 people.

I had a wonderful visit with the priest and congregation at Notre Dame. The priest's name is Reverend Francis Cole (nickname Fan). We worshiped with them on Friday afternoon and Sunday morning. On Sunday morning I preached with a translator. The congregation was very welcoming. One difference I found between Tanzanians and Haitians is trust of outsiders. In Tanzania trust is given right away assuming an outsider is there to help in some way. In Haiti, because the people have been taken advantage of so many times, trust needs to be earned. Thanks all who helped with the vitamin collection. a 50 bound bag was delivered with enough vitamins to supply all the children in the school for a year.

I am coming to the end of the sabbatical. It has been a wonderful blessing that has given me experiences that I could have never imagined. I look forward to returning to St. Dunstan's. I return with some new ideas and opportunities for us to prayerfully consider.My first Sunday back will be September 9th and I look forward to seeing you all and sharing stories of our summers. See you in a couple of weeks.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Living Bible

Today I am narking one month of my time in Tanzania. I will fly to Dar es Salaam today to meet Tami and begin our safari adventure. The past month has been very busy and an incredible experience. I have baptized 27 new Christians, named a church (St. Mary's), started another church, and taught the church calender to 300 clergy. I have visited many churches both large and small. I have meet with a support group for men and women living with HIV/AIDS. The best way to describe the experience is that it feels like the stories from the book of Acts have come alive. I have encounter the blind, the lame, and lepers who have come to me for healing prayers while visiting churches. I have many stories to share with you when I return in September.

My favorite question so far is, "Do you have seeing-eye cats in America?" The image of my cats intentionally leading me into rushing traffic made me laugh. The people in Tanzania are so warm and welcoming. It is a country that faces many problems and the church is on the front line to face many of these issues. One cannot experience the worship (often 2+ hours) and not see the Holy Spirit moving among the people. I preached at the cathedral in Dodoma yesterday to a congregation of 500+.

I am praying about the places where St. Dunstan's can build relationship here in Tanzania. There is certainly a wonderful opportunity working with a group called The Carpenter's Kids which focuses on educating and caring for the children. There are also opportunities to build relationship with individual churches or a group of churches in a deanery.

While in Tanzania, I have heard the news of the bad storms and subsequent power outages back in Virginia. I have also heard of the tragic killings in Denver. I am reminded once again that we live in a broken sinful world that needs God's grace and love.

I continue to hold you and my new friends in Tanzania in my daily prayers.

Blessings. Stephen

Monday, July 2, 2012

Worship in Mwitikria

Yesterday we worshiped at a village called Mwitikria. The service lasted for four hours. No, it wasn't the preacher's fault the service went that long. My first sermon effort in Tanzania went well as I learned to work with the swahili translator. It felt like we were verbally dancing. There was much singing and dancing with several hundred people present. We then had lunch with the church elders and staff. The big surpise was getting off the bus upon arriving at the village and being greated by my seminary friend and classmate Rev Kate Jenkins who is working in the village with her daughter for two weeks. It was very special to have Kate celebrate the Eucharist and me preach. We did our class of 2002 proud.

Today I have parted ways with the Nets for Life group I have been traveling with for the last week. They are headed on safari for a couple of days and then back to Northern Virginia where I undertand there have been bad storms and power outages. I look forward to reconnecting with that group back home. I have invited three of the teenage girls to come and speak to our young people in the fall. Today I will be embedded in a village parish for two weeks. I will have a chance to see what the daily life of the church is like and meet several different ministers and congregations.

As I sat in the worship service getting ready to preach yesterday, I thought of how if you trust in God you will be led to places you never imagined you would go. I look forward to seeing where God will take me the next two weeks.

I pray for St. Dunstan's and hope you are enjoying the Chritianity Around the World programs.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Greetings from Tanzania

I have arrived safely in Tanzania. The first leg of the flight was 13 hours from Washington to Ethiopia then a connecting flight to Dar es Salaam of 2 hours. After an overnight stay in in Dar, I had a 9 hour bus trip to Dodoma. I have been here for three days now and my sleep is finally adjusting.

My first couple of days I have connected with a group from Northern Virginia who are very active in the Nets for Life project. Last year St. Dunstan's did a fund raiser for Nets for Life that was spearheaed by our outreach committee. The project provides free nets and training to help prevent malaria deaths. The group is in Tanzania to see first hand how the project has been implemented. Most of the group is from St. Mary's Arlington. The visits to the villages have been very educational and moving. The Tanzanian people are very friendly and the children are fasinated by the color of our skin. To them white is the color of ghosts and death so  it is wonderful to see their fear turn to smiles as they touch our skin. I can tell you that St. Dunstan's donation to Nets for Life was worth it as this project is making a big difference.

The Tanzanian country is quite beautiful. There are many wonderful rock formations. The weather is 85 degrees sunny and no humidity. I'm told that I will not see any rain in Dodoma while I am here.

I have been reflecting on the question of the relationship between Christ and culture based on comments from the Bishop (had dinner with him my first night here) and other members of his staff. There is a strong sensitvity to not implementing western Chrisitanity in Tanzania but making it more applicable to their cultural practices.

I'm not sure how often I will have access to the internet but I will update you when I can.

Blessings from Tanzania

Thursday, June 21, 2012

All My Bags are Packed....

Well not quite packed yet. On Monday June 25th I will fly to Tanzania and begin that part of the sabbatical adventure. Today I am finishing up my first sermon which I will be preaching on July 1st. I need to email it early to them so my translator will have an idea what I will be preaching on. It is interesting trying to develop a sermon without really knowing the audience. I am reminded how much preaching is about relationship and trust between preacher, congregation, and God. This week has felt a bit overwhelming as I am doing all the little and big things to prepare for my travels. It is a weird mixture of excitement and anxiety.

Last weekend Tami and I spent a few days in Gettysburg. We have lived in Virginia for twenty years but this was our first trip those sacred grounds. Weather was good and the private guided tour was spectacular. The incredible numbers of dead and wounded on both sides didn't really seem to register with me until we went to a special program at Christ Church. The Christ Church program mixed the music of the Civil War with read accounts of people who served in the church when it was being used as a hospital. The program began with a young lady playing violin in the balcony and the piece of music was the theme music from the famous Civil War series on PBS. In that moment, I felt the weight of Gettysburg and the enormous sacrifice that had been made for the sake of a government "of the people, by the people and for the people".

I stopped by the church to pick up my vestments for the Tanzania trip and saw the colors that have been selected for the exterior paint. The brown and cream combination is very good and blends will with the natural surroundings.

I continue to pray for St. Dunstan's and especially for Anna. I hope you will continue to hold Tami and me in your prayers.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Learning Swahili

As week four begins, I have begun learning some important words and phrases in Swahili. I learned that "doctor" is "daktari" and am reminded how much I loved that television show as a kid. Most of the details of my time in Tanzania have been worked out. They include spending time with the organizations Nets for Life and The Carpenter's Kids. Because of some changes in the staffing at the cathedral in Dodoma I will now be working in the villages outside of Dodoma. My departure date is June 25th.

I successfully completed a 5K race in Springfield last Saturday. My time was 22:03 which placed me 26 out of 308 runners and 2nd in the 50+ "old geezer" division. That was a good start and I now look forward to working that time down closer to 20 minutes.

Tami and I have planned a weekend trip to Gettysburg. I have never toured the battlefield  and I am looking forward to seeing the place where Lincoln delivered those powerful words of the Gettysburg Address.

The book I'm currently reading is Toxic Charity by Upton. It is about the unexpected negative results of mission work. This book was recommended to me by several people and it may be a worthy read for the St. Dunstan Book club and our Outreach Committee.

I understand the exterior paint project is progressing along. I look forward to seeing the final color selection (Please Lord not hot pink!).

Peace be with you.

Memorial Day

As Memorial Day passes and stories of wounded and dead soldiers from the last ten years are shared, I am praying for the end of war in Afghanistan and wonder if the cost in lives is worth whatever was gained. I am thankful for all the soldiers, like my father who received a Purple Heart in WWII, who are willing to sacrifice their lives for a greater cause. It reminds me of Christ's sacrifice and love for us.

The last few days have been very restful. I've gotten two rounds of golf in and shot +7 and +8. I'll be running in a 5K race this Saturday hoping to break 20 minutes but so far my training times have been about 21:30 so I've got some work to do. I have finished two books Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I recommend them both especially the Gladwell book which leaves one with a lot to think about.

On Sunday, Tami and I worshipped at St. Barnabas' Church in Annandale. I served as the assistant rector at St. B's for three years before coming to St. Dunstan's. It was wonderful for us to see some dear friends we hadn't seen for a long time and it was wonderful worshipping with Tami.

Plans for my time in Tanzania continue to develop. I am scheduled to have dinner with the Bishop and his wife my first night there. Then there will be a three day orientation to get me used to my surroundings and the diocese. I was sent the lectionary readings for the four Sundays I will be preaching while in the diocese. Apparently American Idol and Simpsons sermon references have no meaning in Tanzania so I could be in big trouble!!

Peace be with you.